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Posted: 3/22/2013
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NTTX Select Hosting Provider Uses Industry-Standard Storage to Slash Storage Costs by 30 Percent

To gain a competitive advantage in the UK hosting market, NTTX Select built a new data center entirely around the Windows Server 2012 operating system and its Storage Spaces feature. By taking advantage of Windows Server 2012 and the ability to use industry-standard storage, NTTX will slash storage costs by 30 percent, reduce storage management costs, gain faster time-to-market, and offer excellent performance and availability at a fraction of previous storage costs.

Business Needs
NTTX Select is a United Kingdom–based service provider and member of the Microsoft Partner Network that offers custom managed IT solutions, including customized virtual desktops; hosting services; and cloud-based storage, backup, and antivirus solutions.

Historically, the company used the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system to virtualize most of its data center. As customers asked for even faster response times and support for new technologies, NTTX realized that its data center was limiting its success. “Our market is very competitive, and we have to move faster and be cheaper than our competition,” says Philip Moss, Chief Technology Officer of NTTX Select. “Although many data centers, including our own, have moved to industry-standard servers, there are still many specialized components that are expensive and have to be connected and managed, which drags down our profits and response time.”

* By using Storage Spaces, Hyper-V over SMB, and other new features, I eliminate big, lumpy capital expenditures.… I can buy inexpensive storage, buy only what I need, and scale in a completely linear manner. *

Philip Moss
Chief Technology Officer, NTTX Select

Storage was one of these expensive components. NTTX spent approximately 40 percent of its data center budget on storage area network (SAN) infrastructure—disks, enclosures, controllers, and other related hardware and software—not to mention the labor to manage it all. Not only were costs high, but it often took NTTX as long as nine months to get a new service to market after a new server or operating system was introduced, because it had to wait for storage and middleware vendors to write drivers and connectors to one another’s technologies.

NTTX was excited about all the new functionality in the Windows Server 2012 operating system, particularly related to storage. “It provides an alternative to the traditional approach of buying specialized hardware and software components and spending enormous amounts of money on third-party middleware to make all the components work together,” Moss says.

Of particular interest was the Storage Spaces feature set in Windows Server 2012, which enables NTTX to use industry-standard storage—notably “just a bunch of disks” (JBOD) devices—to build highly scalable, continuously available storage solutions. This delivers a substantial cost reduction and enables NTTX to adopt new hardware much faster.

NTTX built a completely new data center based on Windows Server 2012 and Storage Spaces. It contains about 4,000 virtual machines, all of which store their virtual hard disks in Storage Spaces and transfer data using the Server Message Block 3 (SMB3) protocol. This latter capability is enabled by Hyper-V over SMB, another Windows Server 2012 feature. NTTX configured its host servers in an active-active failover cluster configuration with transparent failover. It uses the Windows PowerShell command-line interface and scripting language to manage the entire environment, servers and storage.

“By using Storage Spaces and Hyper-V over SMB, we can build a very scalable, available, and high-performance data storage foundation for demanding applications, such as Microsoft SQL Server data management software, at a far lower cost than is possible with SANs,” Moss says. NTTX is running virtually all of its workloads on this cost-effective infrastructure.

By building its data center with Windows Server 2012 and using Storage Spaces for low-cost storage, NTTX Select will slash storage costs by 30 percent and has reduced management time and costs, gained faster time-to-market, and can offer customers excellent performance and availability at far lower costs.

Storage Costs to Drop by 30 Percent
As JBOD storage devices mature, NTTX expects to reduce its storage costs by 30 percent—a significant savings. “By using Storage Spaces, Hyper-V over SMB, and other new features, I eliminate big, lumpy capital expenditures,” Moss says. “With SANs, you have to buy big chunks of storage, usually more than you need, and big expensive controllers. With Storage Spaces, I can buy inexpensive storage, buy only what I need, and scale in a completely linear manner. When a customer wants a new service, we simply plug in a bare-bones server and bring up new compute and storage resources instantly. Storage is now about 25 percent of our budget versus 40 percent before.”

NTTX no longer has to spend money on what Moss calls storage paraphernalia—enclosures, controllers, switches, and specialized software. “If we break open a SAN, all you see inside is a bunch of industry-standard disks,” Moss says. “The software that I use to manage those disks is built into Windows Server 2012; I don’t have to pay [US]$20,000 for a storage vendor’s proprietary integration and management software.”

Far Simpler Storage Management
In fact, NTTX uses the same management framework—Windows PowerShell—to manage everything in the data center. “With SANs, we have to buy special management platforms from each vendor,” Moss says. “But with Microsoft, I have one way of talking to all the subsystems, and it’s much simpler. Under Windows Server 2008 R2 we used more than 12 different management layers, but under Windows Server 2012, we have three. Therefore, our management layer/platform development time is hugely reduced.”

Greater Flexibility, Faster Time-to-Market
As a hosting provider that operates in constantly changing markets, NTTX can address a wider range of customer needs, faster, with Windows Server 2012. Because Storage Spaces reduces the company’s dependence on proprietary storage solutions, NTTX can quickly incorporate new hardware and software innovations into its offerings and be more agile. “The nine-month delay that stemmed from waiting for middleware vendors to write integration software for new technologies was devastating to our business,” Moss says. “During that time, our customers could go somewhere else. With Windows Server 2012 and Storage Spaces, we have the virtual machine capacity and storage flexibility to accommodate just about any customer need, and do so as soon as the product is generally available.”

Excellent Performance and Availability at Lower Cost
NTTX can offer excellent performance availability at a fraction of its previous costs with Windows Server 2012. “With Windows Server 2012, we have a more reliable form of storage, with continuously available failover clusters capable of transparent failover,” Moss says. “Even though we’re using commodity storage hardware, our customers can build solutions that deliver the performance and reliability that their customers demand. We don’t just have a low-cost storage solution; we have one that we can rely on.”

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Solution Overview

Organization Size: 18 employees

Organization Profile

NTTX Select is a hosting service provider that offers custom managed Microsoft-based IT solutions for businesses of all sizes throughout the United Kingdom.

Software and Services
  • Windows Server 2012 Datacenter
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Storage Spaces

Vertical Industries
IT Services

United Kingdom

Business Need
Cloud & Server Platform

IT Issue
Cloud Services